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15 Ailments You Never Knew Were Water-Borne & How to Avoid Them

Mar 01, 2017

Of all the water on earth, only 2.5 percent is fresh water and only about 1 percent is actually accessible. This puts tremendous pressure on us as a society to utilise the available water efficiently.

“40 percent of the world's 6 billion people have no acceptable means of sanitation, and more than 1 billion people draw their water from unsafe sources,” says the World Health Organization. The lack of water also manifests in the form of poor hygiene practices, which in turn are a major reason for the spread of water-borne diseases.

The dearth of clean water thus leads, directly and indirectly, to the outbreak of several diseases and water related ailments. According to WHO, over 3.4 million people die annually from water related diseases and most of them are children. This makes water-borne diseases one of the leading causes of death in the world.

An effective way to prevent the spread of these ailments is to spread awareness. When people are educated about the diseases and the ways to prevent them, a significant part of the problem will vanish on its own. In this regard, here are 15 health issues caused by unhygienic habits and poor quality water.

Each of the diseases listed below can be prevented by following good hygiene practices. Drink clean water, wash hands regularly especially after using the restroom, eat food that is fully cooked, avoid contact with contaminated water in ponds and lakes and maintain clean surroundings.


Also known as bacillary dysentery or Marlow syndrome, the disease is caused by a group of bacteria called Shigella. Those suffering from it experience diarrhoea, fever, and stomach cramps. In fact, Shigella is one of the world’s leading causes of diarrhoea. In severe cases, it may also cause seizures. Fortunately, in most cases the illness subsides in 5 to 7 days.


Yet another illness caused by bacteria, cholera is the result of Vibrio cholerae invading our body. Typical symptoms include extreme diarrhoea and vomiting. It can be life threatening if left untreated, and death is usually due to severe dehydration. However, it is easily cured using modern medicine.

Hepatitis A

This is a highly contagious viral infection that affects the liver. Symptoms include fever, fatigue, stomach pain, nausea, dark urine and jaundice. Children infected with the HAV virus may sometime not show symptoms at all, while in rare cases, the older people might suffer from acute liver failure. Hepatitis A vaccination is an effective way to prevent this disease as it provides lifelong immunity.


This infection is caused by the Leptospira bacteria. Symptoms can be as mild as fever, headache and muscle pains. However, the lack of treatment can lead to Weil's disease and severe pulmonary haemorrhage syndrome, characterised by kidney damage, meningitis (brain and spinal cord membrane inflammation), liver failure and respiratory distress. It can even be fatal in extreme cases.

Typhoid fever

Over 21.5 million people in developing countries around the world are affected by typhoid. In fact, the disease is most common in India. The culprit here is the Salmonella Typhi bacteria. Patients suffer from prolonged high fever, accompanied by headaches, abdominal pain, severe weakness and constipation. Vaccination against typhoid has proven effective, but it does not provide the body lifelong immunity.


People infected by the Salmonella bacteria usually suffer from diarrhoea, fever and abdominal cramps. These symptoms usually last about a week, but most recover without treatment. In rare cases, severe dehydration from diarrhoea may require hospitalization.

Diarrhoea or dysentery

While diarrhoea is a symptom that you suffer from due to several water-borne diseases, you can also suffer from it alone. Many different viruses, bacteria and parasites can result in diarrhoea, which manifest in the form of loose bowel movement. Severe diarrhoea can dehydrate your body and can even cause death if not treated.


This highly contagious parasitic skin disease is caused by the infestation of the human itch mite. The infection spreads especially quickly in crowded conditions. An infected person will initially suffer from extreme itchiness and pimple-like rashes. Those with a poor immune system can suffer from crusted scabies, a more severe form of the infection. There are several medications available to treat this infection.


Usually considered a foodborne infection, the Vibrio family of bacteria can also infect a person through prolonged exposure to sea water. Common symptoms include watery diarrhoea, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting and fever. When an open wound is exposed to sea water infested with these bacteria, it can cause skin infection. Treatment is only required in cases of severe illness.


Naturally found in fresh water, the Legionella family of bacteria can cause legionellosis, which is a type of pneumonia. Cough, shortness of breath, high fever, muscle pains, and headaches are common signs of legionellosis. Like many water-borne diseases, it can also result in nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea.

Pontiac fever is a less severe form of legionellosis, which resolves on its own.


Considered a neglected disease by the World Health Organization, giardiasis or beaver fever is a parasitic disease caused by Giardia lamblia. Diarrhoea, abdominal pain and weight loss are common, but few people also experience vomiting, blood in the stool and fever.

E. Coli 0157:H7 Infection

There are different varieties of E.Coli bacteria, most of which are harmless. But this particular strain of the bacteria can result in patients suffering from kidney failure in addition to other usual symptoms such as bloody diarrhoea, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and fever.


This is an infectious disease caused by Chlamydia trachomatis bacterium. Also known as blinding trachoma, the infection makes the inner surface of the eyelids rough. This leads to pain and can damage the eyes’ cornea, eventually leading to blindness.

Heavy metal poisoning

Cadmium, mercury, lead and arsenic are heavy metals that are the leading cause of poisoning through water contamination. Unregulated release of chemicals containing these metals by industries is a major cause for concern. Heavy metals make their way into water bodies, and when ingested, they lead to a whole range of illnesses. The accumulation of heavy metals in our bodies (called bioaccumulation) usually leads to life threatening health disorders.

One effective way to protect yourself from heavy metal poisoning is by drinking water that’s RO purified—a water purification method that removes all heavy metals.

Filariasis, Japanese encephalitis, malaria and dengue

These diseases are not caused by ingesting and coming in contact with contaminated water. However, they are water-related diseases, transmitted by mosquitoes that breed in stagnant water. These diseases are listed here because they are highly prevalent in India, especially malaria and dengue.

According to WHO, an estimated 15 million cases and 20,000 deaths occur in Southeast Asia from malaria and India’s contribution to that number is 77 percent, which is extremely high.

Maintaining hygiene and drinking clean water goes a long way in keeping water-borne illnesses at bay

All the ailments mentioned above can be prevented to a large degree by maintaining cleanliness and by drinking purified water. Take for example the case of trachoma. As per WHO, trachoma leads to an estimated 146 million cases of blindness around the world. Unfortunately, these are preventable. “The disease is almost unheard of in places where basic water supply, sanitation and hygiene prevail,” says WHO.

Innumerable studies have shown that when a community improves its water supply and starts following good hygiene and sanitation standards, health automatically improves. Once again, to quote WHO, “diarrhoea can be reduced by 26% when basic water, hygiene and sanitation are supplied.”

Take the first step towards keeping your family free from these water-borne ailments by eating hygienic food, washing your hands before meals, keeping your kitchen clean and drinking RO purified water.

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